My First Breastfeeding Story- Polly
I didn’t know why this always seemed to be such a sensitive issue for so many new mums, actually not just new mums, a lot of society. Before I had my son I honestly didn’t know what the big deal was, you either choose to breastfeed or you don’t, end of discussion. I assumed that breastfeeding really couldn’t be that difficult- after all it’s what the nipple was created for. I now realise this perception was probably warped from seeing my youngest sister breastfed until she was four. Yes you read that right, four years old. Although I was never hoping to continue breastfeeding for that long, my Mum (like most things she does) made it look like a walk in the park. I always intended on breastfeeding for as long as I could, I assumed my baby might be just over the age of one when I decided to stop (I don’t know why I chose that age, in my perfect little postnatal world I created in my head it just seemed to work). However like all things involved in motherhood, the reality is actually a far cry from all your fluffy visions and idyllic intentions.
The pressure. The pressure you feel to breastfeed to do ‘the best by your child’. The pressure you feel to stop breastfeeding because your baby is ‘getting innapropriately old to nurse’. The pressure you feel to exclusively breastfeed to save your child from all cancers and diseases that have ever been diagnosed. The pressure you feel to introduce formula to your breastfed baby because your baby is ‘hungry’ and you’re basically starving it by not. EVERYBODY has an opinion on your breastfeeding journey, literally everybody. I’ve had many a debate with the most random people because they felt it appropriate to tell me how long I should or shouldn’t breastfeed for. I’m not an overly sensitive person, really I’m not. I tend to be very confident in my own decisions, sticking (quite stubbornly) to what I feel is right by me and my family and am easily able to shut out unwanted opinions and white noise. However even the most head strong of us can find these opinions, combined with postpartum hormones and emotions, confusing and unsettling. It is no exaggeration when people say that as a new Mum you are at your most vulnerable and you require nothing but positivity and support from those around you. Honestly unless you’re asked, don’t pass an opinion on anything- all a new Mum needs to hear is ‘you’re doing a great job’. That’s it. Five words. No more.
Breastfeeding, where to begin?! The beginning I guess. After leaving the hospital with very little support from the nurses or midwives with latching we soon realised that my son was tongue tied. The midwives were amazing and the NHS staff at St Thomas’ were incredible throughout my pregnancy and labour. However the general lack of care and support for new Mums with breastfeeding really is very poor in the UK. A week into my new life with my new little bundle of joy, breastfeeding was becoming increasingly difficult due to a constant clicking of tongue, a poor latch and very painful nipples. In these situations all I can say is thank goodness for NCT friends, many of whom were already a few weeks into postpartum life and one girl recommended a tongue tie specialist that she had used. The private specialist managed to come a couple of days after I contacted her and it really was night and day in the change that it made. After that I genuinely really enjoyed my breastfeeding experience and I was very comfortable and confident nursing my son both at home and in public.
Hello 4 month old teething baby! Side note- why do antenatal classes waste all that time preparing you for labour?! I mean if the labour massages actually helped you then I salute you, you’re an absolute hero. But to be honest, the way I see it, the baby is going to come whether you like it or not so you may as well spend some of those sessions preparing us for those long monstrous days (and nights) when your baby cuts a tooth. Between month 4 and month 7 I had 3 bouts of nipple thrush, 2 prescriptions of antibiotics, 2 bouts of mastitis, one very stiff neck and zero sleep from being used as a human pacifier throughout the night. For around 2 weeks, in month 6, I slept sat up every night as my baby refused to sleep without suckling or at the very least just have his mouth attached to the breast to sleep. It turns out that being used as a human pacifier will nearly always end in a very painful infection that only antibiotics will clear up. Trying to manage a demanding baby and allowing your body to heal from said infection, so you can nurse again, will also nearly always end in a case of mastitis. I won’t go in to detail explaining the level of pain and discomfort that comes with these conditions but believe me, it’s not pretty. Even after all this I was determined to continue breastfeeding because neither of us (most importantly my son) were ready to stop.
Month 7, the curious and inquisitive little detective that is my son just cannot stay focussed enough to nurse. I’ve tried every trick in the book (and google), dark rooms, no noise, muslin over the head etc but nothing works. It seems even the pitch black nursery is more exciting than a post nap feed. The quick snacks and empty baby stomach were leaving him hungry and me feeling inadequate and deficient. After weeks of struggling, with a heavy heart I’ve decided to stop breastfeeding. Ending our journey here and comparing myself to my idyllic vision of nursing my 1 year old has left me feeling despondent and, to be honest, like I have failed.
Despite only really documenting in this blog post the negative medical experiences I endured, I really did love every single minute of breastfeeding my son (ok maybe not every single minute, but at least 99% of it). I have such a sense of pride when I look at my baby’s chubby little healthy body, that I fed and nourished him with milk that my body produced. My friends think I’m crazy to be upset that our breastfeeding journey has come to an end, and have instead told me to reclaim my nipples with pride and celebrate those successful 7 months. I have the most amazing support network, particularly in my Mum and my two sisters, who have unconditionally supported me from the moment I became a mother. I received a text from my Mum this evening, after confiding in her, which made me feel a million times better. I wanted to share it because it’s not always easy to know what to say to new mothers particularly when it comes to breastfeeding. If this blog gives a little insight, even to one person, about the feelings of a breastfeeding new mum then it was more than worthwhile writing this post. I really do believe we should be normalising breastfeeding and having an open dialogue in general conversation is most definitely very healthy and positive for society. Just be aware that you are not passing judgement and are offering only words of support, because I can guarantee those words will be so very much appreciated.
‘My darling Polly, you have been and are a brilliant mum. Little baby Rumi is bright and perky and interested in everything all around him and because of this he hasn’t got the patience to go on boobie. He is up for getting new experiences and is thoroughly enjoying the opportunities you are giving him. You have absolutely nothing to feel bad about, you have given him the best start in the world he is so lucky to have you as are we all. Love mum.’
I know rationally my family are all right (and I’m the queen of rationality) that it makes sense for us to stop but I just can’t help feeling a deep sense of loss when I imagine no longer nursing my baby. I can’t tell you why, and for me being unaware or out of control of my own emotions and thoughts is most likely adding to the feeling of unease. I guess this is just the beginning of motherhood and I should be prepared for a lifetime of new, unexplained feelings and emotions that I will no longer be able to rationalise and explain.